The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

The prime minister of the United Kingdom is the head of government in the United Kingdom. The prime minister chairs the Cabinet and selects its ministers, and advises the sovereign on the exercise of much of the Royal Prerogative. As modern prime ministers hold office by virtue of their ability to command the confidence of the House of Commons, they typically sit as a Member of Parliament and lead the largest party or a coalition in the House of Commons.

Informal Basis of The prime minister of the United Kingdom:-

The Prime Minister , said John Morley,

Is the keystone of the Cabinet arch.

It would, however, be more accurate, says Jennings

To describe the Prime Minister as the key-stone of the Constitution.

The phrase is as precise as it is picturesque, for, as Jennings, again says, All roads in the Constitution lead to the Prime Minister. From the Prime Minister lead the roads to the Queen, Parliament, the Ministers, the other members of the Commonwealth, even the Church of England and the Courts of law.

The Prime Minister is by far the most powerful man in the country. He has been the principal beneficiary of the Cabinet’s growth in power. The prerogatives lost by the King have fallen for the most part into the Prime Minister’s hands. Those which have not been acquired by him have gone to the Cabinet. But the Prime Minister is central to its formation, central to its life, and central to its death. He forms it; he can alter it or destroy it. The Government as Graves puts it is the master of the country and he is the master of the Government..

And yet the office of the Prime Minister remained unknown to the law until recently. Like the various other institutions of the country, it is the result of mere accident, the child of chance. No statute settled the status of the Prime Minister and his salary is still drawn in part as First Lord of the Treasury, an office bound up with Premiership since 1721.

Not until 1878 did the term make its appearance in any public document when Lord Beaconfield who signed the Treaty of Berlin was referred to in the opening clause as First Lord of Her Majesty’s Treasury, Prime Minister of England.

This designation, in the opinion of Sir Sidney Low, was just a concession to the ignorance of foreigners, who might not have understood the real position of the British plenipotentiary if he had been merely given his official title. It was only in 1906 that the formal position in the order of precedence in State ceremonials was accorded to the office.

The Prime Minister was made the fourth subject of the realm, just after the Archbishop of York. The Chequers Estate Act, 1917  referred to the persons  holding of the office popularly known as Prime minster and provide for the use of Chequers by the incumbent of the office.

The ministers of the Crown Act, 1937, recognized for the first time, the office of the Prime Minster by giving him the salary of £10,000 a year as Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury.  The Ministerial Salaries and Members Pensions Act, 1965, and the Ministerial and Other Salaries Act, 1972, reiterated it. But these provisions do not confer
any powers on the Prime Minister.

These are casual recognition of a constitutional situation, not the legislation of that situation. The Prime Minister has no legal powers as such. His powers are derived from and are limited by constitutional conventions. Basically it is as true today as when Gladstone said it that nowhere in the wide world does so great a substance cast so small a shadow; nowhere is there a man who has so much power, with so little to show for it in the way of formal title or prerogative.

Choice of The Prime Minister:-

The formation of a Cabinet depends essentially on the Royal choice of a Prime Minister. During the eighteenth century, it frequently happened that there was no proper cohesion within the Cabinet and the royal favor was as necessary as the popular support for the Chief Minister of the Crown. In the early part of the reign of George III an attempt was made to reassert the power of the King, the object being to choose such Ministers as were acceptable to himself. This attempt failed and by 1832 the position of the Prime Minister as the leader of the predominant party in the House of Commons had become recognized.

It is a well-settled rule now that the Prime Minister must be either a Peer or a member of the House of Commons. Every Prime Minister since Sir Robert Walpole has been in one of the Houses. No Peer had been Prime Minister since the resignation of Lord Salisbury in 1902.

In 1923, the question, whether a Peer should be a Prime Minister, was definitely raised, The resignation of Bonar Law left the King with a choice between Lord Cuzun and Stanley Baldwin. Long before this it had been felt at the Prime Minister must belong to the House which made and unmade a government. It had also been asserted that the
House of Commons had a right to expect that is chief representative should be within its influenced personally accountable to it. Lord Curzon, no doubt was a peer but it was  not the only issue.

The scales were heavily weighted against him because of his personality. Both these factors put together resulted in the selection of Stanley Baldwin, whose, Cabinet experience was limited to eight months of Bonar Law Government, as Prime Minister. It is claimed that the decision of the King was finally determined by the advice given by Earl Balfour, although George V had also consulted other prominent Conservatives including Lord Long, Lord Salisbury and L.S Amery.

Lord Stamfordham, on behalf of the King, explained to Lord Curzon that since the Labour Party constituted the official Opposition in the House of Commons and were unrepresented in the House of Lords, the objections to a Prime Minister in the Upper Chamber were insuperable.

A single precedent, however, does not create a rule that a Prime Minister must necessarily be from the House of Commons, But the Election of a peer, as Keith rightly remarks, for that office would be abnormal, If the Govemment owns responsibility to the House of Commons alone, a vote in that House only can compel the Government either to resign or to advise a dissolution. Moreover, the Prime Minister is also responsible for the party organization.

Party organization matters only in the House of Commons and not in the House of Lords. If, in brief, the Prime Minister is to correctly feel the pulse of Parliament and in the ultimate analysis that of the electorate, he can do so in the House of Commons. The precedent that the Prime Minister should belong to the House of Commons must, therefore, be regarded as decisive. Baldwin did not show the slightest desire to continue his Premiership on his transfer to the House of Lords.

Professor Keith is of the opinion that had Baldwin decided to continue, such a decision would certainly have been popular enough in the country after he had established his reputation by his brilliant handling of the abdication of Edward VIII. He holds that it remains possible that a Prime Minister might retain that office after transfer to the Upper House. But it is doubtful if any Prime Minister will ever venture it now.

Earl Home disclaimed his peerage, under the peerage Act, 1963, and became Sir Alec Douglas-Home and succeeded Harold Macmillan as the Prime Minister. The new methods .of choosing a prime minister adopted by both Labour and Conservative parties preclude the possibility of a Peer being elevated. to this august office now.
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